Scotch Street, Downpatrick. Image by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society[/caption] Near the east coast of Northern Ireland, on the southwest of Strangford Lough, Downpatrick is the traditional, ecclesiastical capital of County Down. The town, which today has a population of over 10,000, derives its name from an association with St. Patrick.
St. Patrick's Burial Site?
It was once believed that Ireland's patron saint, who introduced Christianity to the island, was buried here. However, historical and church authorities now agree that the saint was buried at a barn in nearby Saul. This does not deter a regular pilgrimage of visitors to a grave in the grounds of Down Cathedral, marked with the word "Patric" and a simple cross, though most are aware that the saint is not buried there. Another (equally inaccurate) legend has it that the site holds the graves of St. Columba and St. Bridget, who are also famous Irish saints. The Cathedral and Down County Museum (once a jail), stand on the Hill of Down, the site of one of the twin 'duns' or earth forts that protected the pre-Christian settlement. The town has nevertheless long been a religious center, and is the seat of the Catholic diocese of Down. St. Patrick is believed to have founded a church there around 440AD, while the present Down Cathedral was built in 1790.
The town's other religious sites include the remains of the 12th Century Inch Abbey, and of the Monastery of Saul, which is also believed to have been founded by St. Patrick, with the holy wells of Struell nearby. Today the town is also famous for its racecourse, which annually hosts the Ulster National, along with several other meetings throughout the year.